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Posts Tagged ‘closed

 
Would you ban people from using Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram outside of school? Why or why not?

Would you do the same in school? Again, why or why not?

If you answered no to both initial questions, you do not have a closed mindset. Continue to do good work or do not block others from doing so.

If you answered yes to both questions, there is no helping you. No amount of conversation, debate, professional development, or even an order from above will change that stance. You need to leave the system because you are doing more harm than good. You will find people who agree with you and they need to leave too.

If you answered no to the first and yes to the second initial question, ask yourself critically and reflectively why you have different answers. Why encase the school in an artificial bubble instead of connecting it to the wider world? What greater harm are you doing by attempting to protect?

Yesterday I reflected on the moral dilemma of playing the research game because it benefits only a few stakeholders. Today I continue with the processes of publishing research.

Most academics review articles and serve on editorial boards because it looks great on their CVs. For a few, this also provides power to lord over others by rejecting papers in the name of “objective” reviews. The same might be said of committees that determine disbursement of funds for research.

But all that is child’s play when compared to the ruse of publishers.

With one hand they pull in reviewers of journal papers for free (it is a service academics provide for one another after all). With the other, the publishers collect money by charging top dollar to libraries, organizations, and individuals who want journal collections or specific papers.

What I have reflected on is not news. In 2002, Frey compared the publishing process to prostitution. PhD Comics had an amusing take on this in 2011.


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The open movement is a disruptive process that threatens the membership and rules of the game of research as currently played.

Open practice champions like Martin Weller do great work in this respect. His recent blog entry on the benefits of being open is a must-read.

Influential bodies like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are insisting that research data and publications be shared with the Creative Commons Attribution licence.

A few local universities and agencies have shared some materials openly, but they are an insignificant drop in the research bucket.

Not only is the rest of published research is not so freely shared, researchers are complicit by playing to the rules set by publishers, universities, and grant bodies.

If you are not an academic, you should be morally outraged. If you are, you should reflect critically on the state of the playing field.

There is a game that university academics play. The game has a strict selection process and the chosen must play by the rules.

However, like casinos, the house always wins, the players think they win, and the players’ stakeholders tend to lose.

Casino Velden Panorama by geek7, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  geek7 

 
The game is called research and publishing. It is a game that academics play because they are expected to. Very few seem to challenge its rules and the ethics of playing the game the same old way.

Anyone can conduct research without getting a grant or by paying out of pocket, but why would they? They get more points in their appraisals if they successfully apply for grant money.

The money comes from a corporation or a government body or the university itself, and there are often stringent demands when applying for funds. That is a good thing because the money ultimately comes from the taxpayer and layperson.

What might be less clear is how the money benefits these stakeholders even if researchers have to justify their research. Leaders and managers of universities and funding agencies recognize this ethical issue and take administrative and policy measures to address it. There are strict review processes, rules to protect human subjects, regular reporting processes, expectations of social responsibility or scaling up, etc.

But with the way the game is played in reality, the benefit to stakeholders seems tertiary, if at all. The research money primarily benefits researchers and journal publishers, and secondarily benefits a research ecosystem.

Research money helps some academic staff publish papers and get promotions. If enough of them do these, they raise the profile and international ranking of the university. Research outputs go to journals and publishers profit from the work of researchers. These are the primary beneficiaries.

In order to conduct research and publish, academic staff need to buy equipment, hire staff, outsource some services, arrange for conference travel, and so on. This could benefit some stakeholders by providing employment and creating a demand for assorted services. These are the secondary beneficiaries.

But research is typically funded over only two or three years. This means that funding cycles are tight and a researcher needs to be creative with resources and/or apply for multiple grants if s/he wants to sustain the research.

Sustaining a study is particularly important in educational or social studies type of research because of the subjectivity and complexity of human factors. Such studies also might have interventions like technology use which take time to develop, implement, and revise.

Sometimes researchers move from one grant to another (and therefore from one research topic to another) like slash-and-burn farmers move from plot to plot. Both leave damage in their wake. In the case of educational research, it might be schools, teachers, and students who have no support after the study team pulls out.

Closed circles are created when researchers team up with one or a few partner teachers or schools. If there is harm, it is contained. If there is good, it is highly contextualized and difficult to generalize.

The process of publishing the results or impact of research is also closed. More thoughts on that tomorrow.


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